Evidently McCain Got the Memo

At least I think he did.

In an earlier post I suggested that McCain needed to reverse direction in his campaign, moving away from the “Obama palling around with terrorists” angle and instead focus on unveiling an economic policy package specifically geared toward middle-class voters.  And that is, in fact, exactly what McCain is doing. First,  based on my watching her most recent campaign event,  Palin has revamped her stump speech, eliminating the attack-by-association element and instead emphasizing her small town roots and touting McCain’s economic plan. As I suggested in that earlier post, that is precisely the best way to maximize her vote-getting appeal.  Leave it to the right wing bloggers to fight the Bill Ayers battle and let the media vet that issue. Personal attacks on Obama gain McCain and Palin little traction with independents

More importantly, McCain is indicating (although reports are conflicting) that he may introduce a new (or at least reworked) economic policy proposal at Wednesday’s debate. If the reports are accurate (a big if) it  suggests he has learned from his failure to properly prime the media for his rollout of the mortgage buyback plan which he sprung unceremoniously during the second debate, only to see it lost in the backwater of the media horserace coverage regarding who won the debate. (For those of you who missed it, McCain proposed that the federal government buy mortgages in danger of default and refinance them to allow homeowners to stay in their home, at an estimated cost of some $300 billion to taxpayers. It would be paid for using some of the $700 billion Congress recently authorized to spend to ease the credit crunch. Obama opposes the plan as too expensive and a bailout of the home lending industry.) According to a new Rasmussen national telephone survey, 52% of those surveyed actually support McCain’s plan . Thirty-five percent (35%) oppose it. Interestingly, McCain’s buyback program actually receives greater support from Democrats than Republicans; 59% of Democrats think it is a good idea, but only 47% of Republicans do.  Independents are split, with 49% supporting McCain’s plan. More interesting still, 70% of African-Americans actually support it.  This suggests that had McCain teased the buyback plan a bit more effectively, it may have helped him with precisely those voters that he must win over if he is to close the gap in this race, as well as shoring up his standing as someone who can address the economic issues.

If McCain is planning to introduce a new policy in Wednesday’s debate, or tweak or “reissue” existing ones, he would do well to make sure it is the focus of debate coverage rather than expecting the media to highlight it in the immediate post-debate spin.  That means using a page from the Palin debate playbook: look at the camera, ignore the moderator’s question and give the set speech on the economy.  And then do it again.  You betcha!

To be sure, it is asking a lot to think McCain can use the final debate to shift the electoral terrain in his favor.  There doesn’t seem to be very many proposals to ease the current credit crunch that a) have broad support and b) haven’t already been discussed in one form or another. And it is McCain’s own party that remains most skeptical of most government-based prescriptions, such as the mortgage buyback program, designed to ease the current financial crisis. So beyond touting elements of his existing economic policy proposals, including the mortgage buyback program, it’s not clear what if any proposal McCain has to offer that would signify a major change in how the government is trying to deal with this issue or that would allow him to regain some electoral footing on the economic terrain.  It may be that he is better off using the debate to contrast his economic program with Obama’s.  In particular, Obama has gained quite a bit of mileage by touting his tax cuts, thus out-Republicanizing the Republicans on an issue they usually own.  McCain may want to focus on the budgetary implications of Obama’s policy proposals, particularly the shortfall between revenue and spending projections.

A final thought: it would be ironic if a tax-cutting Democratic candidate defeated the Republican candidate largely on the perception among voters that the Democrat is better able to handle the economy!  Maybe this is a realigning election after all….

One comment

  1. I wouldn’t put too much weight in the Rasmussen poll – if you look at the specific questions, there are three where a majority of people do not want the government to assist homeowners directly, and one where the slimmest majority support a vaguely worded summary of the McCain plan. The plan has been so vague in its presentation that there’s no real public opinion to measure.

    I think the bigger question is whether McCain calls attention to his shift away from fear-mongering, or just hopes to drown out the past attacks by changing tones. If he admits that his previous campaign strategy was wrong (as Bill Kristol calls for in today’s NYT), he can be branded as an erratic and inconsistent flip-flopper; if he tries just to change the tone more subtly, good luck getting the press to stop focusing on the horse-race and attack-dog modes and care about policy nuts & bolts. I think the train has left the station on McCain being able to control his own narrative.

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